Eritreans in Tel Aviv
Photo: Yaron Brener
Sudanese protest deportation
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Israel’s migrant explosion

Guide for the perplexed: Infiltrators or refugees? And why aren’t they deported?

Infiltrators or refugees?


Tens of thousands of illegal residents from African countries have infiltrated into Israel from Egypt, and when they enter they receive a temporary dwelling permit – so it is possible to define most of them as asylum seekers. Only some hundreds in fact receive refugee status. From 2005 until 2011 the State of Israel granted refugee status to some 650 infiltrators.


How does one receive recognition as a refugee?


The Population and Immigration Committee examines the request for political asylum, conducts a comprehensive interview and decides if the person is indeed in danger in his native country against the backdrop of political or racist persecution. A refugee receives status as a political asylum seeker according to the UN treaty which Israel is a signatory to, and receives all the social benefits, status as a temporary resident and an Israeli ID card.


How many among them are entitled for Israeli ID cards?


In fact, almost none of the asylum seekers in Israel are defined as refugees. Insofar as most are from Eritrea and Sudan, Israel decided to grant them collective protection against deportation the moment they enter Israel. In other words, it is permitted for them to stay in Israel but it is forbidden for them to work. Their visas explicitly note that the certificate is not a work permit. They are obligated to renew their residence permits every three months.


Why don’t we send them back to Eritrea and Sudan?


The State of Israel is obligated to the UN and the refugee treaty. The UN claims that right now it is not possible to send back residents of Eritrea to their country because their lives will be in danger if they go back. A third of the children in Eritrea under the age of five are under weight. Sudan is a separate problem for Israel: if a Sudanese citizen comes to Norway, for example, he is examined and it is determined that he isn’t a refugee – so there is nothing preventing his being sent back directly to Khartoum. However, as Sudan and Israel are considered enemies, the Sudanese here merit collective protection automatically. A Sudanese citizen who returns to his country from Israel may be defined as a traitor and may face lengthy imprisonment or death.


What rights do asylum seekers have in Israel?


Besides the possibility of staying here, not much. They work illegally and do not receive social benefits of any kind except education. The right to education is universal, and Israel enables every child of asylum seekers to learn in school. They have no health rights, and the Welfare Ministry treats welfare cases only when urgent.


Who pays for their medical treatment?


The asylum seekers have no medical rights – starting with immunizations and nursing clinics through internal medicine or specialists. The healthcare system in Israel absorbs tens of millions of shekels in unpaid bills every year – because the hospitals are obligated to treat every person whose life is in danger.


How do they survive if they are not permitted to work?


Even though they don’t have work permits, the State has pledged to the High Court not to enforce the prohibition on employment until completion of the holding facility now being planned in the south of the country. Many asylum seekers are employed in hotels and tourist locations in Eilat, in the Dead Sea and in other tourist areas. In Tel Aviv some are employed as contract workers for the local authorities, in restaurants and part-time labor like renovations.


What are their working conditions?


In some places they receive minimum wage, but in other places the salary they receive can be significantly lower. Beside salary they have no other economic rights. Mostly they are employed far more than the hours permitted by law and do not receive overtime.


What is the crime rate among the foreigners in Israel?


There are still no official figures for 2011. As for the last years, the crime rate for asylum seekers and infiltrators was low: in 2009 the police opened cases against 2.4% of the asylum seekers from Africa, and in 2010 the police opened cases against 2.04% of the asylum seekers from Africa.


How does the government plan to solve the infiltrator problem?


There are four paths on the agenda: The first is establishment of the holding facility in the south that will enable imprisonment of some 12,000 asylum seekers until their deportation. The second move, establishment of a fence on the Egypt border that will prevent entry of infiltrators. The third is exploiting the law on infiltrators, which enables to State to imprison a person who infiltrates into Israel for a period of up to three years. The fourth is enforcement against someone who employs asylum seekers and imposition of fines totaling tens of thousands of shekels.


And as for the long term?


One possibility is returning them to Eritrea and Sudan despite the UN recommendations. A second possibility is to finalize agreements with third countries, like Canada and Australia, which accept asylum seekers according to a certain quota they determine for themselves every year. Another option is establishing open refugee camps that will permit coming and going and will enable the asylum seekers to receive meals and social benefits, including professional training, but forbid them from working in Israeli territory. Yet another possibility is granting work permits to some of the asylum seekers instead of to foreign workers from other countries.




פרסום ראשון: 05.23.12, 08:58
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